Safety Manager

Safety Manager


The Safety manager (SM) is an individual responsible for the development, operation and continuous improvement of the safety management system (SMS) deployed by an operator/service provider. He acts as a focal point for safety management issues in the organisation.


International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) has introduced changes to the Annexes to the Chicago Convention in order to harmonise and extend provisions relating to safety management to aviation service provider organisations and aircraft manufacturers. Those provisions require that aviation services providers develop and maintain an SMS implementation plan. An important item on this plan is the appointment of key safety personnel. According to ICAO, the operators/service providers “shall identify a safety manager to be the responsible individual and focal point for the implementation and maintenance of an effective SMS”.

Often seen as the facilitator for changes necessary to effect safety across the organisation, the safety manager's priorities are to supervise and maintain the safety management processes and procedures within the organisation’s SMS.

The appointment of the Safety manager (SM) is an essential step in the establishment of the SMS organisational structure and a prerequisite for an efficient safety planning process. Irrespective of any other duties that may be allocated to them, safety managers have the responsibility to:

  • Promote safety awareness within the organisation;
  • Ensure that safety management has the same or higher priority level throughout organisation as any other management and operational processes;
  • Manage all aspects of the organisation’s SMS, including:
    • Monitoring the effectiveness of SMS;
    • Initiating corrective actions when necessary;
    • Providing safety reports on SMS performance on periodic basis;
    • Providing safety advice to top management and proposing corrective actions on safety related-issues as needed;
    • Ensuring that safety-related documentation and records are available and up-to-date.

The approach to the assignment of Safety manager’s responsibilities may differ depending on the type, size of the organisation, its mission, complexity of operations and operating environment. Two generic examples are given below, based on organisation’s size.

Large Organisations

In large organisations a full-time SM position can be justified, and preferably, the person appointed for it should have no responsibilities other than those related to safety management. A number of medium to large-sized operators/service providers often choose together with the assignment of an SM to establish a safety department or office. In these organisations, the safety department serves as a centre for safety-related activities, acts as a focal point for safety reports and information, and provides methodological guidance and expertise on safety related operational issues to line managers. The safety department also assists the SM in enhancing the safety management processes and procedures.

Small Organisations

In some small organizations, the SM responsibilities are often delegated to a manager who also has other duties. Safety departments are often discarded as an option and safety-related functions are delegated to managers and staff. In such cases, to avoid possible conflict of interests, it is advisable that the person responsible for the SMS does not also have direct operational line management responsibilities.

Responsibility for Safety of Operations

In both types of organisations, the operational safety activities are the line managers’ responsibilities. While the SM may be held accountable for any shortcomings in the SMS itself, the SM should not be accountable for the safety performance of the organisation. The SM is responsible and accountable for providing effective support to line managers to ensure the success of their safety management efforts, and to communicate safety-related issues within the organisation directly to top management. Thus, safety management is a responsibility shared by the SM, every line manager and supported by the top management.

Since the main source of safety-related information within an organisation is its operational personnel, the SM should be actively seeking information and feedback from the line staff. The SM should be readily available when staff wishes to contact him/her. Safety manager duties should not be confined in the safety office waiting to receive important safety-related information; rather he/she should be active in seeking that information, by going out talking to operational staff. In order to do that the SM should be located where the line personnel can have easy access and the SM should be able to move around the organisation and communicate to managers of all levels.

As the SM is the central point for the development and maintenance the organisation’s SMS, typically the SM is likely to be appointed as the main contact person for the regulatory authority for safety issues.

Generic SM Selection Criteria

Typically the SM should possess operational management expertise and understanding of the operations-critical tasks and systems within the organisation. The operational background, solely, is not sufficient for the successful SM. He/she must possess competency in regard of safety management principles. Some key skills must be taken into consideration to complement the professional expertise of the SM:

  • Professional knowledge of the organisation’s specific operations and environment;
  • Analytical thinking and problem-solving abilities;
  • Inter and intra-organisation project management skills;
  • People-oriented skills such as, objectivity, fairness etc.;
  • Communication skills, both written and oral.

When those skills are matched with individual’s traits such as leadership and ability to set personal example of “how to do the correct thing”, an important step is made towards a building of positive safety culture.

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